We left Nha Trang this morning for Dalat - a hill station in the central highlands that had been established by the French. The bus left at 7:50 for what we thought was a 3 ½ journey. The route taken didn't follow the signs for Dalat and the road we were on was bad - lots of pot holes and areas where it had been washed away. We had a very steep climb up into the hills with views over the plain - it looked like a patch work with all the flooded fields below. We eventually arrived at Dalat at 2:40 - 5 ½ hours. We found out that the new road was closed due to flooding or storm damage and we had used the old road. We had a brief walk round the town - quite a pleasant place with lots of cafes - its noted for its coffee (grown locally) and cakes. We got accosted by lots of people trying to sell us tours on the back of a motor bike - the so called 'Easy Riders' - Fran was not very keen.
The next day we explored of Dalat on foot. After one of the best breakfasts we have had on the trip - 8 different fruits, fresh juice, omelette, bacon and baguettes, we set off round the town.As soon as we left the drizzle started. We went round the lake which sits in the middle of town calling in at the flower gardens on the way. The flower garden was not at it's best - wrong season I think and in steady rain. We took shelter, then continued our tour. We then went on to the 'Crazy house' - a hotel built by an architect who wants everything looking like nature - the result is a weird mixture of buildings complete with spiders webs. From here we went on to the old royal summer residence - built for the last Vietnamese emperor in the 1930s. It was in an Art Deco style with all of the original furniture - seemed like going back to our youth for us oldies!
We had been looking around about going off hiking to one of the local mountains - only the tour office were questioning our ability to do it. So, rather than taking the organised tour we caught the bus at the end of the road to the mountain and off we went. We found that there were 2 peaks, one with paved road all the way. We took this road, walking up and up through the pines. The only problem was that the top of the mountain was in cloud. We got to a fork in the trail and decided against going to the main peak (2100 m) and opted for the lower one at 1950m. We got to the top to admire the views over Dalat and to the other side to a large lake. The 6km climb had taken about 2 hours - but the descent was a little quicker if harder on the legs. After this we came back, had a drink and a cake and a look round the market. This was interesting - aimed at the locals and Vietnamese tourists. It sold lots of dried and candied fruits which we had troubles identifying.
As Dalat is rather spread out, the next day we opted to hire some bikes to see a few of the outlying districts. The first stop was the railway station - which is only for tourists as it was a cog-railway that had been mostly destroyed by the Vietcong and now only went for 13 km rather than the original 50km to the coast. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and ended up going another 5km - all uphill and then down again. Needless to say Fran wasn't too pleased as she ended up at the railway station worn out. To add insult to injury, we had missed the train and couldn't get another one for 3 hours.We decided to press on to the next spot which was a temple overlooking a lake and a waterfall. The ride took us back through town and up some hills. The next bit was all downhill with the thought that we had to cycle back this way. The lake and temple weren't up to much and we went further downhill to the waterfalls. These were OK and had the added attraction of a rollercoaster down to them. It was then a long slog back to the hotel mainly uphill that we ended up walking a lot of. The bikes were not a success!
After the bikes, we decided to hire a car to see some of the countryside. We followed a route that took us out West towards the mountains. Initially we went through acres and acres of plastic greenhouses - all of these were flowers, mainly roses and gerberas. These are a significant export for the area. As we got into the hills, it was mainly a coffee growing area with coffee beans drying outside all the smallholdings - complete with chickens, ducks and kids in them. Only hope they roast them well to get rid of the extraneous stuff!The guide suggested stopping at a silk factory - we groaned but at his insistence stopped. It turned out to be quite interesting as it was genuine and most of the equipment seemed about 100 years old. Even worse, Fran ended up buying some things.We went from there to the Elephant falls which were the most spectacular we had seen - a horseshoe shape like Niagara only not quite as big!. There was a very tricky track over the rocks down to the bottom which was slippery from all the spray. The view at the bottom was worth it.